In 1963 Aden, one of the few remaining British colonies, sat sweltering at the southern edge of the Arabian peninsular. Its vicious summers were not cooled by the proximity of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. These merely gave it a salt-laden humidity which rusted metal almost while one watched. It probably did little for the lungs, either.
The British seized Aden in 1839 because it was a nest of pirates threatening maritime trade with Bombay. They stationed a few soldiers there to prevent any recurrence of the threat. A totally unappealing piece of real estate, it had no intrinsic value. Only after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 did it acquire strategic and commercial importance as a coaling station on the route to India. Coal was later replaced by oil in its bunkering facilities.
The British made it a Crown Colony, and to secure the hinterland made treaties with various local rulers to create the Aden Protectorate. This effectively gave Britain control over a large area stretching from the Yemen in the West to Oman in the East. To the North there was no border, nor was one necessary. Between the Aden Protectorate and Saudi Arabia stretched the Rub al Kali, the 'Empty Quarter', a broad band of true desert uninhabited and lacking sustenance for man or beast.
Although Sheikhs, Emirs or Sultans continued to rule their tribal areas much as they had always done, any misbehaviour on their part (such as starting a war with a neighbouring tribe) brought punitive action by the British. If thought desirable the British had no compunction about arbitrarily exiling a dissident ruler, and replacing him by a more amenable member of his (or somebody else's) family. It was the same kind of loose control of the imperial boundaries which they (and before them the Romans) had employed and successfully exercised in India, Burma and elsewhere. After the First World War, punitive action in South Arabia became easier and more cost-effective. For the expenditure of a few tankfuls of petrol the RAF could extend their normal training by bombing a town or village which was misbehaving, having previously warned the inhabitants by dropping leaflets. The inhabitants, who knew the drill, would move out into the countryside, preceded by their goats and camels and followed by their women. The mud houses of their town would be duly flattened from the air. Re-building would keep them out of mischief. A problem had been solved without casualties to either side.
Under the Pax Britannica the area flourished, insofar as so unpromising an area could be said to do so. Tribesmen continued to find subsistence in their inhospitable homelands. Ruling families continued to rule in traditional fashion, provided they behaved themselves. Aden town, the link with the outside world, boomed modestly. In spite of the fact that the area's only exportable product was salt and its only industry an oil refinery at nearby Little Aden, there was enough trade to support a small commercial class and the banks and insurance companies which serviced them. The British garrison of all three services spent money in the town and were employers of labour. The same applied to the Colonial Civil Service which governed Aden itself directly and the Protectorate indirectly. Ships continued to visit, and provided purchasers for the duty-free goods of the predominantly Indian shopkeepers. All these factors continued to operate during and after the Second World War.
However, the world was changing, a fact of which the British were only too well aware. As far as successive British governments of both parties were concerned the policy was still, in theory, to nurse such dependent territories as Aden slowly towards a viable self-government. In practice, the object was to get rid of them as soon as possible, and hope that they did not fall into chaos too soon after the departure of the colonial power.
To this end British experts had produced one of the draft constitutions at which, over the centuries, they had become adept. These were always clever legal constructions, and sometimes even worked in practice. More often, however, they were compromises which ensured that nobody would be fully satisfied, and everybody would be left with grievances of one kind or another.
The idea in this case was to cobble together a Federation of South Arabia, consisting of Aden State and the various tribal areas. A capital city was in the process of construction, and characterless concrete buildings littered the desert site selected. In them were already being housed the burgeoning bureaucracy which the embryo State would require. The city had been named Al Ittihad - 'Independence' - and the idea was that as soon as the Constitution had been finalised, and the nuts and bolts of a federal government inserted, Great Britain would march happily from the scene with flags flying and bands playing, to the plaudits of the assembled multitudes and the rest of the world. Meanwhile, interminable negotiations and arguments continued as every party concerned strove to ensure the maximum amount of profit from 'Independence'. As far as effective government was concerned, the main change was that the Governor became the High Commissioner, and his Secretariat the High Commission.
The skilled work of the constitutional lawyers, and the pious hopes of the British Government of a peaceful handover of power to a friendly democratic regime, had failed to take into account certain realities of the situation. The first reality was that Aden and the tribal homelands were not homogenous. The Adeni was an urbanised, de-tribalised creature used to a comfortable existence. He tended to regard tribesmen (including their rulers) as a primitive form of life unfitted to participate in the sophisticated world of commerce and parliamentary government. The tribesman, on the other hand, regarded the Adeni as a fat, idle, untrustworthy degenerate, and Aden as a plum ripe for the picking. The fact that both parties had some justification for their attitudes did not lessen the difficulties of finding points of agreement between them. They would at best make uneasy bedfellows, and at worst would come into more or less violent conflict. In that case the odds would be heavily in favour of the tribesmen. They were bred for warfare, and accustomed to carrying arms from childhood. The Adeni had no such conditioning.
Another reality was the existence across an ill-defined border, impossible to police effectively, of the neighbouring country of the Yemen. Traditionally ruled by a hereditary Imam, it had been a founder member of the Arab League in 1945, and a member of the United Nations since 1947. In 1962 the Imam Yahya died following injuries received during an assassination attempt. His son and heir, the Imam Mohammed el Badr, ruled for only a week before being deposed in a military coup which proclaimed a republic. He fled to Saudi Arabia, from where he continued to command the loyalty of a Royalist faction who carried on a guerrilla against the new rulers. This faction, financed by the Saudis and assisted by British and French mercenaries was still a going concern up to the time the British left Aden.
The rulers of the Yemen had always laid claim to the territory under British control. The change to a Republic did not affect this. The claims were based on rather shaky historical and tribal grounds, the firm reason behind them being a desire to acquire an adjoining territory containing a town with a more sophisticated infrastructure, a more profitable commerce, and better port facilities, than they possessed themselves. Apart from sporadic border incidents, the mere presence of the British in Aden had always been sufficient to deter these ambitions. Now, with a military regime in power in the Yemen eager to flex its muscles, and the prospect of the eventual departure of the British, they revived in full force.
Nor was this all. The external support for the new Yemeni Republic, to which it largely owed its birth and continued existence, came from Egypt. That is to say, it came from the Egyptian dictator, Abdul Gamal al Nasser. In spite of a conspicuous lack of success so far, he was still dreaming of a new pan-Arab empire - of which he would, of course, be the de facto Emperor. The new Republic was definitely within his sphere of influence. He gave its leaders financial aid, supplied them with troops, air support and advisers, and generally told them what to do. He assisted them in their on-going civil war against the Royalists.
He also, of course, whole-heartedly supported their territorial claims against his old enemies the British, who ranked second only to the Israelis on his list of hate objects. He had enough sense to avoid open conflict, but gave full support in every possible way to no less than two terrorist movements, both of which were anti-Federation and anti-British.
This support was channelled through the Egyptian Intelligence Service, which had set up a headquarters in Taiz, the Yemeni capital. The EIS was the large, well-funded body, under the direct control of Nasser himself, on which he relied to enforce repression at home and to pursue his clandestine adventures overseas. Since Nasser had, at various times, accepted aid from both sides in the cold war, the EIS had received help and training from both the CIA and the KGB. This, grafted on to training acquired from British Intelligence during the period when Egypt had been within the British sphere of influence, provided a considerable fund of expertise on which they could draw. They were, in fact, a quite effective body.
The first of the two terrorist groups trained, armed and financed by the EIS was the National Liberation Front, led by Qahtan as Shaabi. The NLF had an ambitious programme which included the eviction of the British from the area, the destruction of the embryo Federation of South Arabia, and the creation of a new 'socialist' state incorporating Aden and all territories formerly under the control of hereditary tribal chieftains in alliance with the British. Their motivation was simple - a desire for power, and greed for the loot of Aden. This was thinly cloaked by some rather muddled political ideology. Few of them would have been able to express this in any coherent form, but in cold war terms they leaned more towards the Soviet Union than the USA. Their adherents were drawn from dissidents, trouble-makers and outcasts from tribes on both sides of the border. They could be described as terrorists pretending to be politicians.
The other terrorist body was the Front for the Liberation of South Yemen. FLOSY was led by a clique of politicians, notably Abdullah Al Asnag, a former Aden Trade Union Leader, and Mohammed Salem Basindwah, also an Adeni. They lived in Cairo, and were, therefore, more distant from the scene of the action than the NLF, whose leadership operated from Taiz in the Yemen. Although their aims were similar to those of the NLF, they were rather more sophisticated and less radical. Their adherents tended to be Adeni rather than tribesmen. They could be described as politicians pretending to be terrorists.
Needless to say, each of these two organisations included the other on the list of those to whom they were bitterly opposed. Although their aims were similar, there was no possibility of agreement between them. The real object of the leadership of both was to ensure that they, and nobody else, should finish up on top of whatever heap was left after the departure of the British. The EIS, of course, was happy to play one off against the other while assuring both that they were the real favourites.
There was an additional factor to be taken into account - the tribal nature of Arab society and its love of intrigue, conspiracy, treachery and the pursuit of personal vendettas. It was never possible to be entirely sure who was on which side at any given moment.
The British thus found themselves in the middle of the kind of violently demented situation, virtually incomprehensible to the rational mind, which the Middle East seems to specialise in producing.
The NLF opened the ball in 1963 by throwing a grenade at a gathering of British officials at Aden Airport. The ineptly thrown grenade landed with a low stone wall between it and the group which was its target. Unwittingly aiding the NLF, the stone wall disintegrated under the force of the explosion. The resulting fragments caused more casualties than the grenade alone could have achieved. As is often the case with so imprecise a weapon, the worst mayhem was among the unfortunate bystanders, although one British officer in the target group was severely wounded. The high casualty list ensured more publicity than might otherwise have been expected, and the Aden Emergency was well and truly launched. To the British - or at least those of them with their eyes open and an ear to the ground - the incident was a clear signal that they had a serious problem on their hands. A peaceful transfer of power to the South Arabian Federation seemed unlikely, and they would not get out as easily as they had thought.
The NLF followed up their initial move with a number of assassinations. These were, on the whole, quite efficiently carried out. The word 'assassin' had, after all, originated in the Middle East, and the NLF had plenty of tough tribesmen happy to be armed, trained and paid by the Egyptians to do what came naturally to them.
NLF intelligence seemed to be good, implying the presence of well-placed supporters within the Federation and Aden State. Targets at this stage were largely Arab. They included political opponents, known or suspected supporters of FLOSY, personal enemies, and all the informers of the Aden Police Special Branch. This small body was thus blinded almost at a stroke. It did not take a Sherlock Holmes to deduce the presence of NLF supporters within the Police Force. It would have been wise to assume this anyway, and subsequent events proved that it was even greater than might have been expected. Those Arab policemen who were opposed to the NLF kept, if they were wise, a low profile.
There was also the occasional grenade attack directed against British troops. Since the Police Force - apart from its unreliability - was totally inadequate to cope with the situation, mobile and foot patrols of the town by the Army had been introduced. There was, therefore, no lack of targets for this type of attack. Most of the patrols were in Landrovers, and were normally on the move, albeit slowly. They thus presented a moving target, and ineptly thrown grenades would often land a considerable distance from them. The attacks were, therefore, not very effective. Nevertheless, they achieved the object of keeping the media pot boiling, and keeping Aden on the global public scene. Most of these attacks were carried out by the NLF. FLOSY, less militant and less well supplied, confined themselves to the occasional attack designed to maintain their terrorist credentials without putting themselves at risk. They were more concerned with protecting themselves against the NLF.
So much for the baddies. Who, if anyone, was on the side of the goodies?
Firstly, there was the Governor - now known as the High Commissioner. He was the civil and military head of the Colony, the key figure in the Protectorate, and the man charged with bringing into being the independent Federation of South Arabia to which the British could make a ceremonial handover of power before gracefully fading away. Sir Richard Turnbull's credentials for the job were impeccable. An experienced colonial administrator, he had put in hard time in Palestine and Africa, and had been the Governor of Tanganyika when that former colony had peacefully become the independent state of Tanzania. To round off a distinguished career he had been handed what had now become a very hot potato.
His Secretariat - now known as the High Commission - consisted of British administrative officers, a few of whom had some experience of the territory. The majority, however, were recent arrivals hastily recruited on contract when it became obvious that trouble was not merely brewing but had arrived. Although most of them had some sort of former service in other colonies, they were unacquainted with the area, the people or the problems, and - worse - were new to the sort of emergency situation which they were facing. They had no loyal native staff to do the donkey work, as would probably have been the case during their former service. Effectively, they were operating in a vacuum.
There was also an infrastructure of government offices manned by Arab or Indian staff of varying degrees of competence, such as the Public Works Department. The PWD, as their name implied, were responsible for the maintenance of public utilities and government buildings. These bodies functioned, more or less effectively, throughout the Emergency. In general, government servants of all grades tended to go about their business as usual. No doubt many of them were metaphorically sticking their heads in the sand and wishing that whatever was happening would go away and leave them to enjoy uneventful lives.
The Aden State Police, most of whom were normally unarmed, were virtually useless. The uniformed branch confined their presence in the streets to the safer areas during times when nothing was likely to happen. A few Arab CID officers continued to investigate crime and prosecute criminals, provided it was absolutely clear that there was no political connection involved, but they were non-existent where terrorism was concerned. Those policemen who were not actively supporting one of the two terrorist organisations kept their heads well down. This included the Armed Police, a para-military organisation. They spent most of their time in their barracks in Crater, or standing about outside the government buildings they were allegedly guarding. They could not even, under present conditions, be employed as a riot squad. Riots, always an Arab hobby, currently had some veneer of political motivation, and the reliability of the Armed Police under such circumstances was doubtful to say the least.
The burden of keeping the peace thus fell, effectively, on the British Army. The three battalions of Aden Brigade, sometimes beefed up by Paras or Marine Commandos, were responsible for showing the flag and emphasising that the British were still in control. They patrolled the streets on foot or in Landrovers, and dealt as best they could with whatever might occur, including the odd riot. Untrained for such a role, they were prevented from reacting to provocation as forcibly as they might have wished by stringent rules designed to ensure the use of minimum force by anybody other than terrorists. All things considered, they usually performed with competence and patience. Only the fact that they were usually moving targets, the imprecision of the grenades which were the favoured weapon and the poor aim of the attackers, kept the casualty list amazingly low.
Outside Aden State, the embryo Federal Government, drawing its authority from a Constitution not yet fully in force, pretended that it had some effective power. Its real power over the traditional rulers of the tribal areas was problematical, while in turn their control over their own tribesmen was not always as complete as they liked to think. The Federal Government was very much a paper tiger. Its 'teeth' were not particularly impressive. There was a Federal Regular Army, and a Federal National Guard. The first was to take over from the British when they left, and the second to provide a Gendarmerie in the tribal areas. Both organisations were in the process of being trained for their roles by British Army or Colonial Police officers. They were a long way from being effective. Any peace-keeping required in the former Protectorate was, therefore, as in Aden, done by the British. The Paras and Marines had occasional brushes with dissident tribesmen or Yemeni infiltrators from over the border, sometimes quite vicious guerrilla warfare with hardy mountaineers operating in their own territory. These clashes, taking place as they did out of sight and earshot of the hotels inhabited by the representatives of the media, got much less publicity than not very effective grenade attacks in Aden.
It required no great intellect to realise that an essential in such a situation was the best possible Intelligence coverage, and that existing arrangements fell far short of that ideal.
The gathering and analysis of Intelligence about Aden State, the South Arabian Federation and the Yemen was the responsibility of the Aden Intelligence Centre, an amorphous body cobbled together to meet the needs of the new South Arabian Federation. It was commanded by a Brigadier General seconded from the Army. Under his command were the tiny two-man Aden Police Special Branch and a few civilian desk officers from the previous Intelligence regime concerned with the Protectorate and the Yemen.
Records available to this body were, effectively, the Registry of the Aden Police Special Branch. These consisted of a card index in the charge of a female Registry Clerk recruited in London for the purpose. A large red letter 'S' in the top right-hand corner of some index cards indicated that the subject was a source of information. This identification of informers in an open Registry in a building guarded only by Arab Armed Police, and normally totally unoccupied at night, might well have explained the recent premature deaths of all these individuals.
The Deputy Head of Special Branch was the nearest thing the AIC had to an active agent. Harry Barry was a Deputy Superintendent of Police with long service in the Colony. He had formerly been in the Palestine Police, and was a good old trooper who could be relied upon to do a job of work to the best of his ability.
His job, as he saw it under present circumstances, was to chase terrorists. He was assisted by a Military Intelligence Officer, an infantry major who had acquired a Landrover and a squad of soldiers from Aden Brigade. This body constituted the counter-terrorist effort in Aden State. Since the untimely demise of the SB sources, such little information as was available to them consisted of unreliable bazaar gossip and denunciations, usually false, passed to them for money or from malice. On the basis of this they charged around the town arresting suspected NLF or FLOSY members. Other individuals were being arrested by the Army because they had been in the vicinity of a grenade attack, had caused a disturbance in the streets, or simply because some soldier had disliked their faces or attitudes. All these people were passed to an Interrogation Centre set up and staffed by the Army. Thereafter they were detained under the usual Emergency Regulations, which allowed for detention without trial in terrorist cases. They were currently being kept in the State Prison, already chronically overcrowded. Paperwork consisted of the signing of Detention Orders by Head of Special Branch. Fortunately, a new state-of-the-art prison had just been constructed, and this became the Detention Camp for the rest of the Emergency. The unfortunate Prison Governor, for whom the modern prison had originally been designed, had to soldier on with his old accommodation.
The new Detention Camp was staffed by Army and RAF Provost Staff, and put under the command of a large, imperturbable and competent Squadron Leader, a former London policeman. It became a model establishment, and it is probably true to say that its inhabitants were better accommodated and fed than the average British soldier in Aden at the time. They were also, for the first time, correctly identified and documented.
Counter terrorism in Aden continued to be carried out by Harry Barry and his Army side-kick. To their credit they were doing something, rather than sitting around twiddling their thumbs like everybody else, but the information on which they were acting was, to say the least, unreliable. The only way their considerable expenditure of time and energy was likely to be effective was if, by some enormous stroke of luck, they blundered into something worthwhile. It was cowboy counter-terrorism, reminiscent of the early days of the Cyprus Emergency but with even fewer assets. Here, there was not even the equivalent of the Turks whose local knowledge had proved so valuable in Cyprus.
The Interrogation Centre had an equally minuscule chance of producing anything worthwhile. Army Intelligence Corps personnel, some of whom had some knowledge of Arabic, staffed it. None, however, had any of the local knowledge without which an interrogator is working in the dark, and nobody was in a position to give them any kind of useful brief on the organisations or personalities their clients were, allegedly, working for. Like everybody else, they were having to start from scratch with no assets, and were doing their best under the unsatisfactory circumstances.
Presumably to remedy the totally inadequate knowledge of the enemy, all AIC personnel and the Interrogation Centre staff were given a lecture by a visiting Foreign Office gentleman. This dealt entirely with the structure and modus operandi of the Egyptian Intelligence Service, and in particular on the difficulties of penetrating this very active and security-conscious body. Although not without academic interest, the lecture was of no practical use. We were less concerned with the machinations of the EIS than with the operations within Aden of the NLF and FLOSY, and about these the lecturer obviously knew as little as we did. Only one thing was clear. They were well established in Aden, and becoming increasingly active. They had a virtually clear field. All they had to do was ensure that they did not actually operate within sight and range of an Army patrol.
Having ensured their own security by disposing of the Special Branch sources and successfully intimidating the Adeni population, they were able to become more ambitious. A British bank manager was shot and killed in the street, an opportunity killing rather than a planned assassination, and an indication that indiscriminate killing of European civilians was now on the agenda.
Not very effective grenade attacks continued, but a new weapon appeared, more accurate and potentially more dangerous. This was a hand-held rocket launcher. Developed from a WW2 prototype called a Bazooka by the Americans and a Panzerfaust by the Germans, it was now a standard infantry anti-tank weapon in most armies. Basically a simple tube which could be rested on the shoulder for firing, it was used to direct a small rocket with an explosive warhead. This was designed to penetrate armour before exploding, with devastating anti-personnel effect, in the confined space of a tank. With a range of over 500 yards, and reasonably accurate in trained hands, it could be a powerful terrorist tool against vehicles or buildings. Improvements on the original design had made it more readily portable, and the latest version came in a disposable tube, rendering the weapon even more useful to a terrorist wishing to disappear unobtrusively after an attack. Distribution of these and other weapons to subversive groups around the world was, of course, by courtesy of the Soviet Union. They normally used another Iron Curtain country as an intermediary, usually the Czechs. In the particular case of Aden such weaponry also passed through the hands of the Egyptians.
The presence of at least one of these weapons in Aden was realised when one of them was fired at the Aden Intelligence Centre. The incident occurred during the night, when the building was unoccupied, and there were no casualties. The projectile penetrated the outside wall of the building and entered the Registry. Here, since the area was fairly large and open, its explosive force was dissipated, and it did little damage. Indeed, in view of the inadequacies of the records for present purposes, their total destruction would not have been a major disaster. It was not clear whether the building in general had been the target, or whether the target had been the Registry itself. In the latter case, it showed that the enemy was greatly over-rating SB knowledge of their identities and activities.
This incident underlined the fact, already obvious to any person not brain-dead, that the AIC building and its staff had to be a prime terrorist target. In view of this it was surprising that it still occupied arguably the most vulnerable building in Aden. The bureaucrats of the High Commission were already supposed to be seeking alternative accommodation for the AIC. They were asked to increase their efforts. However, it was to take a more serious incident to lash them into activity.
At the top of the winding, uphill road which constituted the entrance into Crater, there was a small roundabout. To enter the street containing the AIC office, it was necessary to turn sharply right around this. Any car performing this manoeuvre was, of necessity, slowed down to little more than walking pace. It was, in fact, a spot tailor-made for an ambush on AIC staff as they arrived for work by the only possible route. To make the task of an ambusher even easier, this would be at about the same time each morning. The NLF could hardly be expected not to take advantage of these favourable circumstances sooner rather than later.
Hardly surprisingly, the candidate selected by their effective assassination squad was Harry Barry. He was well known as the Special Branch source handler, and was thus a prime target. (Although their elimination of his sources had, in fact, been complete, they could not be sure of this.) His arrests and searches were continuing, demonstrating that he was still actively chasing them Finally, his car was a distinctive yellow Mini, easily identifiable from a distance.
One morning soon after the rocket attack Harry - as always an early arrival - duly slowed at the roundabout and turned right. From spent cartridge cases it was possible to reconstruct what had then occurred. The assassination squad consisted of four men, armed with 9mm automatic pistols. Two were on one side of the road, two on the other. As Harry's car emerged from the roundabout, all they had to do was fire into it from a range at which they could hardly miss. Some forty rounds were poured into it. Quite a few of these connected with Harry, who must have hardly had time to register what was happening before he died. By the time I drove along the same route later, an Army patrol attracted by the gunshots had efficiently evacuated Harry to hospital, although it must have been evident that he was beyond medical help. All that remained on the scene was his forlorn little car, every window shattered and the coachwork full of bullet holes.
This incident finally brought home to any remaining doubters, either in Aden or London, the fact that the Emergency was not going to go away and must be taken more seriously. One sign of this was the provision for the Head of Special Branch of a bodyguard, an Army corporal. Whoever selected him chose well. On his first day on duty, alert and watchful, he insisted on entering the flat first when his charge returned home. This totally took by surprise the lone assassin waiting, pistol in hand, in the doorway of the kitchen, to which he had been admitted by the cook. Instead of the middle-aged civilian target he was expecting, he was suddenly confronted by a tough and athletic-looking young soldier pointing a Sterling gun at him. Losing his nerve, he dived back into the kitchen, this lightning reaction saving him from the burst the bodyguard loosed off at him. He then took off so fast through the back door that he was half way to Taiz before the bodyguard could get a second chance at him
This further incident seemed to be the signal for a start to some radical changes, which had long been obviously necessary. Perhaps it was merely that a number of previous arrangements finally began to come to fruition. First, suitable accommodation was found for the AIC. The Shell Oil Company owned a large building on the outskirts of the City, which they had vacated when they moved all their operations to their big refinery complex at Little Aden along the coast. They were only too happy to lease this building to the only tenant likely to come forward under present conditions - the British High Commission. The large two-storey block stood in a fenced compound, not overlooked by other buildings. The only gate into the perimeter was flanked by a brick hut which served as a guardroom for the Army guard which was immediately placed on the premises. There was even a small house at one end of the main building, which was promptly occupied by the Brigadier. Ample covered garaging completed the picture, and the compound was large enough to contain room for the rapid erection of further prefabricated buildings if required. With this provision of a reasonably secure base, it seemed reasonable to hope that somebody, somewhere, was finally beginning to take the situation seriously.
New accommodation was not the only change for the AIC. Other things started to happen which indicated that serious action was finally being taken to remedy the glaring inadequacies of the organisation.
First, some new faces appeared as a result of recruitment in London. One of the earliest was a young man who was obviously an acquisition. Ted Irving was a former naval frogman who had joined the Nyasaland Police after leaving the Navy, and had served for a couple of years in the Special Branch until Nyasaland ceased to exist and became the independent state of Malawi. He had, therefore, some relevant background. Still a very fit man, he was also young enough to be keen. Having been led to believe that he was joining an Intelligence organisation which was a going concern, his early questions showed a practical approach. "Who were our targets?" "What sources had we to direct against them?" He was rapidly made aware that the honest answer to the first was "Your guess is as good as mine" and to the second "None".
Another new arrival was John Burgess, an Intelligence Corps Major who was appointed Liaison Officer between the AIC and the Commander of Aden Brigade. It was immediately obvious that he also was a good bloke, and he was instrumental in helping to create the healthy Special Branch/Army relationship essential in such circumstances.
A further indication that things were changing was the sudden appearance of John Prendergast, who since his departure from Cyprus had been Director of Intelligence, Hong Kong. He had been sent, as the most senior and experienced Colonial Special Branch officer, to conduct a personal appraisal of the AIC. This was at the request of the High Commissioner, Sir Richard Turnbull, who had known him in Palestine and Kenya.
John Prendergast unceremoniously took over the office of the Head of Special Branch, in which he started to conduct interviews with the AIC staff. A week was more than enough for him to assess the organisation, its problems and the personalities involved with precision.
The results of his visit were soon evident. The Head of Special Branch disappeared to some vague 'advisory' job in the National Guard at the Federal capital Al Ittihad. He was replaced by Bernard Ruck. Bernard had been one of two Deputies to the Chief of Intelligence in Kenya. He was a senior and experienced Special Branch officer, and a good administrator. Currently on contract to the Federal Government as an adviser to the newly-formed National Guard, he was persuaded by the High Commissioner to take on the job of Head of Special Branch pending any changes decided upon after consideration of John Prendergast's report. Not particularly keen to assume responsibility for such a can of worms, he nevertheless felt it his duty to accept the task and grimly set to work to set up an Intelligence organisation from scratch under the most unfavourable conditions imaginable.
His first task was to seek to get more staff on the ground without delay. Recruitment was being undertaken in London, and two ex-Kenya SB men were under consideration for contracts. Bernard tried to light a fire under the bureaucrats to accelerate the dispatch of these two to Aden, and to continue recruiting efforts. Meanwhile he busied himself with his extensive contacts in Colonial Police and Intelligence circles. Suitable people were thin on the ground. The few with relevant experience were mostly fixed up with jobs which they would be unlikely to leave for a contract in so unpromising a spot. However, one potential recruit had no choice in the matter. Bob Laing, formerly District Special Branch Officer in Nyeri in Kenya, had been just young enough when he left Kenya to get a permanent commission in the RAF Administrative Branch. As a serving officer he was, of course, obliged to go wherever he was sent. Bernard pulled the necessary strings, and Bob was on a plane within the week, his secondment to SB Aden signed, sealed and delivered with a military celerity in sharp contrast to the dilatory antics of the bureaucrats. Hauled out of a job as Adjutant on some dreary RAF station in England, he was, after the initial shock, not altogether displeased.
Things seemed finally to be moving in the right direction - better late than never.
When Bernard Ruck took over as Head of Special Branch it was obvious that the immediate necessity was to develop sources of information. Jim Herlihy, a contract Desk Officer at the AIC whose official job had been to keep track of detainees and their documentation, was given the job of finding and developing sources. An experienced SB officer he had already had already done some work in this direction on his own initiative.
Another asset was also acquired. Jock Snell was a former commander of the Hadhrami Bedouin Legion, one of the irregular units scattered around the globe whose function was to keep the peace in the wilder and less accessible areas of the British Empire, in this case the Eastern end of the Aden Protectorate. During this period he became not only a fluent Arabic speaker, but one of those relatively rare Europeans who could deal amicably and effectively with Arabs on the basis of some instinctive affinity. Having done his stint of hard labour in the wilds, he was moved to Aden, where he became a general handyman and trouble-shooter. In the course of this he acquired an unrivalled knowledge of the ins and outs of Aden politics, and made many Arab friends and contacts. He was teamed with Jim Herlihy.
Jock had the contacts, and it was up to Jim to exploit them by turning casual informants and purveyors of bazaar gossip into controlled sources of information with potential access to material of political or operational value. The combination proved effective.
Any likely candidates - and there were a surprising number of 'possibles' - were unobtrusively contacted by Jock and brought to a rendezvous during the hours of darkness. They would be interviewed by Jock and Jim and, if they appeared receptive, offered paid employment as regular sources. In view of the perilous nature of such activities, they would be assured that they - and their information - would be handled in such a way that no suspicion could fall on them. Since they knew and trusted Jock, this came better at this stage from him, rather than from Jim, a stranger. Should they accept, Jim would brief them on rendezvous points and times for clandestine meetings, and all overt contact with them would be broken off. At future contacts they would be briefed and de-briefed by Jim, with Jock acting as interpreter.
The security precautions set up were elementary, but had been the result of much thought to adapt them to local conditions. They were designed to protect the individuals concerned, but also served to reassure them that their safety was, indeed, of prime importance. For both reasons the precautions were stringent and were meticulously observed. A secure place to meet provided no difficulty now that the AIC was properly accommodated. Within the AIC compound was a large, empty building, originally designed as a garage and vehicle maintenance area. Stout locks and a few bits of furniture soon turned it into a super-secure de-briefing room within a secure area. Sources were picked up during the hours of darkness by Jim Herlihy and made to lie on the back seat of the car with a rug over their head. Thus as the AIC compound was entered not even the Army sentries on the gate saw the source who did not emerge from the car until inside the garage. This also ensured that the source did not know where he had been taken, and could not describe the location should he be 'doubling' on us.
Pick-up points were selected with care. They would normally be in quiet areas, neither overlooked by buildings nor much frequented by passers-by. They would also normally be at a road junction, from which a view down the approaches should disclose any potential follower or observer. The pick-up would take place during the hours of darkness, and at exact times. Punctuality was insisted upon, so that neither the source nor the handler could attract attention by hanging about an area in which they had no obvious business. If a rendezvous was missed for some unavoidable reason, there would be another at a different time and place as a fall-back. Later, when more resources became available, the system was up-graded. An escort car would precede the pick-up car to the RV. As soon as the escort spotted the source the lights of both cars would be turned off. The escort would drive past the source, who would normally be walking slowly in accordance with instructions. The pick-up car would drive alongside and stop, and he would get into the back seat and lie down. The whole operation would take only a couple of seconds. The escort car would then lead back to the AIC compound. After the meeting the source would be driven back - again hidden - to one of a number of suitable drop points.
Initially, three good and reliable sources were acquired. All three spoke reasonable English, so that although Jock continued to act as interpreter it was possible to manage without him in case of need. This was fortunate. His long service in an unhealthy climate had taken its toll on his liver. He had to be shipped home to Britain for treatment. The AIC thus lost a valuable and irreplaceable asset.
Three sources does not sound much, but it was an increase of 300% on the previous position. Another source resulted from Jim Herlihy's investigations among the detainees, and yet another was provided by the Interrogation Centre. They had been asked to pass on the names of anyone who seemed in the least co-operative, who would then be interviewed with a view to possible recruitment.
One of them was clearly an outstanding prospect. He had been arrested on suspicion of NLF membership but was, in fact a member of FLOSY. One of his tasks for that organisation was the collection of information about the NLF. He agreed to share the results of his enquiries with us in return for immunity from arrest and detention. Since his activities were political rather than violence directed against us, it was a good bargain involving no moral dilemmas. He proved a reliable and loyal worker, and produced some good operational information from time to time. Throughout our association he steadfastly refused to accept regular payment, on the grounds that he was acting out of political conviction and not as a paid informer. Only once was he persuaded accept money. As a result of information he provided, we made a sizeable recovery of arms and explosives. He accepted that he was entitled to a reward for this. When we finally left Aden he was offered passage to Britain and help to settle there, since the future Government of South Arabia was effectively the NLF, and as a known opponent he would be in some danger. He refused the offer, and decided to stick it out in his homeland in the hope he could do some good. A courageous man. I hope he survived the post-Independence chaos, but doubt it.
At about this time came the news - unwelcome to some - that John Prendergast would be taking up a new post of Chief of Intelligence Aden, in the near future.
John Prendergast, in typical fashion, wasted no time in making his presence felt. Within hours he was cordially detested by at least three members of the AIC staff. He left nobody in any doubt that as far as he was concerned they were there to work, and that he expected results from them rather than excuses. To anybody who had served under him before, this came as no surprise. To others it was clearly a rather nasty shock. To some of the older members of the AIC staff, whose working habits had been formed in the leisurely atmosphere of a colonial backwater, he was a reincarnation of Genghis Khan. I overheard one of them in conversation with a sympathetic crony referring to him in shocked tones as 'that barbarian'.
Having established his presence and stimulated a satisfactory flow of adrenalin in the idle, he began to accelerate the process, begun by Bernard Ruck, of turning a random collection of individuals into an effective Intelligence organisation. From Jim Herlihy he demanded a paper suggesting the formation of a counter-terrorist group and outlining its area of operation and rules of engagement. This was provided within 24 hours, submitted to the High Commissioner and presumably cleared by him with London. Jim was offered the command of this group. He did not jump at the opportunity. Indeed, although not entirely unexpected it confronted him with something of a dilemma. It was obvious that the only way the South Arabian Federation would get off the ground was if it was more strongly bolstered by British arms and money than it was at present. If it was not, the future in Aden offered nothing but a possibly protracted period of internal security operations, conducted against a campaign of urban terrorism in the most unattractive context imaginable. To see the sun rise over - for example - the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus can be a pleasant and reviving sight. To see it rise over the slums of Sheik Othman could never be anything but depressing. He had no illusions. By accepting the job he would be sentencing himself to a period of hard labour and stress of a kind for which he was getting a little long in the tooth. At the end of it, two years older and almost certainly tired, he would have to look for another job. However, after providing the blueprint for the formation of the new group, it seemed rather cowardly to depart and leave the implementation of it to someone else rather than see the job through. It was very evident that there was nobody else available with the particular kind of operational experience required, plus two years acclimatisation to the realities of the area. To leave just as the battle was beginning to escalate would be a kind of desertion in the face of the enemy. He accepted the offer, claimed Bob Laing as his second-in-command, and took off for London for a short break and to sign a new contract.
Bob thus had the job of setting up 'B' Group, as the new entity was to be known. These would include the erection and furnishing of new prefabricated accommodation in the spacious grounds of the AIC. Jim would thus be able to return to a going concern, and hit the ground running instead of being bogged down in administrative detail. For this type of administrative chore Bob was the ideal choice.
Having thus started the ball rolling, Jim set off for London to sign a new contract as Superintendent of Police. He was prepared to forego the three months paid leave due on the expiry of his previous contract, but there was no way the Crown Agents, even under pressure, would produce a contract for signature without going through their normal protracted rigmarole, including a medical examination. It was a month before a contract was produced for signature, followed by air tickets.
The long and tedious flight to Aden ended eventually, and Jim was decanted on to the tarmac of the unimpressive terminal at 7.30 am. Bob Laing picked him up and drove straight to the AIC which now contained the large pre-fabricated building which had been erected in the grounds to house 'B' Group. The largest room was set up as an operations centre, with a desk and telephones for a Duty Officer, a bench for wireless equipment and a long table for the use of operational personnel or for meetings. Off this room was Jim's office and another for Bob. At the rear was an office to house the three Intelligence Corps soldiers who had been borrowed from the Army to act as clerks, and a contract Deputy Superintendent of Police who would be responsible for them and for looking after the routine paper work. The furniture throughout was standard Government issue, spartan but adequate. Bob had done a good job.
At 8.30 precisely the 'phone in Jim's new office rang. It was John Prendergast. "Where the hell have you been?" he asked. "Your plane got in at 7.30. Get yourself up here".
In John's office the briefing was short and clear. Stress was laid on the desirability of immediate results. There was the warning that that all operations must be strictly controlled. In particular, the Interrogation Centre was to be kept under strict supervision, and was to be maintained in such a state that it could be opened for inspection at any time by representatives of the Red Cross, visiting junketeers from the United Nations or any stray self-promoting politician on a taxpayer-funded holiday. The message was loud and clear. On no account was anything to be allowed to happen which could be considered embarrassing to the Government of the United Kingdom in general, and its Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in particular. Otherwise, Jim had a free hand.
The basic set-up of B Group was designed to utilise to best advantage the resources available. In the absence of an effective Police Force, this meant that it was heavily dependent on the Army. It was the Army which had erected its offices. It was the Army which had supplied its radio equipment, both in the Operations Room and in the Landrovers which they also supplied. For all except the simplest operations it would also have to rely on them to provide the necessary operational personnel and any subsequent back-up required. What the Army would gain (it was hoped) would be better targeting, enabling them to strike back more effectively and thus reduce their casualties. Aden Brigade invariably met all demands made on them, and never provided B Group with less than 100% co-operation.
'B' Group was responsible for the production of operational intelligence, taking action on that intelligence, and any interrogation, documentation and detention of prisoners resulting. The existing Interrogation Centre was assimilated into the Group. Under the command of an Intelligence Corps Major, it was staffed by Arabic linguists of ranks ranging from Sergeant to Major, with a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy and a gentleman from the Foreign Office thrown in for good measure.
Four contract Policemen, ex-Colonials recruited in London, acted as Operations Officers. They were a mixed bunch, the best being a large, steady and competent Scotsman, Jim Semple, who unfortunately opted to leave at the end of his contract. Each Ops officer had a Landrover equipped with radio working back to the Ops Room, where a Duty Officer was on duty 24 hours a day. Each of the three battalions in Aden Brigade provided a Special Branch squad of an officer and ten men. Each squad had two Landrovers equipped with radio on the Army net, and such useful tools as picks, shovels, crowbars and hook ladders. These squads were at the disposal, separately or together, of the Operations Officers. One squad was on instant call-out at all times. The others were available at short notice. Further troops could be called on if necessary. Two Army Majors provided liaison with Aden Brigade and the Brigade in Little Aden, and at various times there was close co-operation with other units including the SAS troop stationed in Aden.
All operations were booked out to a specific operations officer, who was given the relevant information - or as much of it as he needed to know - in the form of a written brief. He was then responsible for calling up the duty Special Branch squad and carrying out the operation. Sometimes more than one operation would take place on the same night, and more than one operations officer and Special Branch squad might be involved. On one occasion five separate operations took place simultaneously at five separate locations, and two extra Special Branch squads had to be formed by Aden Brigade at short notice to cope with the demand. Normally, however, one operation at a time was the rule.
From the beginning Jim kept all source handling, assessment of information and authorisation of operations in his own hands. Thereafter, most of the detailed planning and the provision of written briefs for the Operations Officers was done by Bob.
For some two years it was a rare night when at least one SB party was not operating somewhere against a specific target or targets. Many of these raids resulted in arrests and the recovery of arms or explosives.
This outfit operated until just before 'Independence' in 1967, when the country was handed over to a Government which was, effectively, the NLF. The Group, although hierarchical in structure, functioned on a basis of informality. For example Bob, as a newly commissioned RAF officer was - in terms of strict military protocol - junior to all the military personnel within the group with the exception of a Sergeant in the Interrogation Centre and the three clerks in the office. He was considerably junior to most of those with whom he had to deal outside the Group. Nevertheless, he never had the slightest difficulty in functioning effectively as second in command. Part of this, perhaps, was because of his lack of identifying uniform while on duty, but part of it was, undoubtedly, simply because he was Bob.
During its period of operation the group was surprisingly successful. Jim had brought to it some sources of information, and others were acquired as time went on. Interrogation provided other leads, and there was an occasional bonus from information provided by sources directed against political targets and handled outside the group.
From the beginning Jim insisted that unless absolutely necessary no operations would take place during daylight hours. The optimum time - and the one chosen unless there were good reasons against it - was one o'clock in the morning. At this time it was most likely that targets would be at home and asleep. They would be taken by surprise and disorientated for their initial interrogation. Equally important, if the raid was carried out quietly and efficiently, it should arouse little attention. The opposition would not discover what was happening in time to assemble men and arms to give the party a nasty surprise. On only two occasions was an operation mounted in daylight. On both of these the information came from a Federation source, and it was considered desirable for political reasons that it should be made abundantly clear that the information was being acted on. Jim did not like the arrangement, and took both parties personally. On the first occasion some very old explosive was recovered. On the second occasion, the party came under heavy machine gun fire at long range immediately it arrived on the scene, and had to go to ground and call up an armoured car for support while it extricated itself. The strong suspicion was that a deliberate trap had been set.
In one sense the Group was merely sticking a finger in the dyke, since arrested men or armaments were soon replaced. Nevertheless, its activities undoubtedly curtailed the effectiveness of the terrorist groups who were its targets, and thus reduced the number of casualties suffered by the Security Forces. It is perhaps worth recording, as an indication of the careful planning and execution of these operations, that the only casualties suffered were one young soldier killed by the accidental discharge of his own Sterling gun, and one Police Operations Officer slightly wounded in an attack unconnected with SB operations.
A B Group day would start with a meeting in Jim's office at 7.30. At this Jim, Mike Heath (the Major in command of the Interrogation Centre) and Bob Laing would ensure that all three were up to the minute on the status of interrogations, detainees and any operations in the pipeline.
Jim would then go to the conference room adjoining John Prendergast's office for John's 'Morning Prayers' at 8 o'clock. On his way through the Ops Room he would pick up from the Duty Officer a copy of the log of incidents occurring during the previous 24 hours. He had to describe briefly to the meeting the incidents of the last 24 hours, and give an assessment of their significance.
After his 'Morning Prayers', John Prendergast in turn would move up a rung to attend the morning meeting of the High Commissioner's Security Committee at Government House.
The only exception to this routine was on Sunday mornings. 'Morning Prayers' was not held. John - a good Irish Catholic - was free to go to Morning Mass. Jim was free to go to his Sunday morning shooting practice with the SAS.
Part of the routine would also be paper work. Much of this was dealt with by Bob Laing or the contract Police Officer who ran the office. Applications for Detention Orders, correspondence in connection with Detainees, and Interrogation reports all had to be compiled, typed and filed. The written Operations Orders which initiated each of our operational sorties were often time-consuming to prepare. These served as both brief and authorisation for the Operations Officers, and would sometimes involve a certain amount of research. There would almost certainly be at least one of these required for that night's operations.
Evening was the time for preparations for operations. There were Operations Officers to be briefed, and they in turn had to brief their Army Special Branch Squads. Although written briefs would have been provided, there were usually last-minute questions or amendments. Preferably both Bob Laing and Jim Herlihy would be present on such occasions, and invariably one or the other was.
Meetings with sources could run quite late into the night. They always tended to be hurried affairs, since although from the point of view of extracting maximum information a long and leisurely session was desirable, it was also desirable that the source should be out of circulation for a minimum period. Nevertheless, a protracted session was sometimes inevitable. To complicate matters, a curfew might be in force in the area in which he lived, which might mean smuggling him home past military roadblocks or patrols without his being seen either by them or by any watchful enemy.
The night hours - particularly the early hours of the morning - were the time for operations. The darkness made the Squad less vulnerable targets, villains were more likely to be at home and in bed, and it was cooler.
Apart from prisoners resulting from B Group's own operations, Jim could be called on at any hour of the day or night to make an on-the-spot decision whether to release a prisoner arrested by the Army or admit him to the Interrogation Centre. The decision to admit was normally straightforward enough, and could be taken by the Duty Officer or Mike Heath. However, if it was a question of release the matter could become tricky, and would usually be referred to him. It often happened that an Army patrol in whose vicinity a grenade had been lobbed would proudly appear with a prisoner. Had one of them seen him actually throw the grenade - a highly unlikely occurrence - the matter was simple. There was some evidence that he was an active terrorist, and interrogation and subsequent detention would be automatic and potentially profitable. However, such good fortune was rare. Grenades were thrown from cover, and normally the first intimation the patrol had of the attack was the explosion. The attacker had thrown his grenade four seconds before this, and was highly unlikely to be hanging about in the vicinity waiting to be picked up by the irate soldiery. The unfortunate prisoner presented was, therefore, almost certainly some bystander without the sense to make himself scarce when there was a loud bang in his vicinity. However, by the time the matter reached the B Group Duty Officer he would have become a valuable capture and a source of pride. To reject him out of hand would have been bad for Army morale, and could arouse ill-feeling, especially if any casualties had been incurred. Hence the tendency to shunt such hot potatoes upwards. Jim's solution was usually to instruct admission to the Interrogation Centre, where the individual could languish in the courtyard under the eye of the Army guard for the rest of the night without taking up valuable accommodation inside. In the morning he could be briefly interrogated by one of the Arabists, who after reference to Jim in case of doubt would almost certainly instruct release. The Army were happy that they were being taken seriously, and would have forgotten the matter in a couple of days. Very rarely did they subsequently ask what the results of an interrogation had been, and by then they were quite happy to accept that the man had been given a clean bill of health.
A big problem was that Jim could only delegate to a limited degree. He was, by now the longest-serving officer in the AIC with the exception of the two relics who dealt only with the affairs of the former Protectorate. It would take later arrivals months to acquire the same level of local knowledge. He could not, for example, hand over any sources with any confidence that the handler could pick up names, place-names or allusions as he could, or make the necessary connections or deductions. There was no longer Jock Snell's wealth of knowledge to draw on. The same applied to assessments of the product of the Interrogation Centre.
The frequency of incidents gradually increased as time went on. Jim's report at 'Morning Prayers' became longer - once there was a total of over a hundred incidents during the preceding 24 hours
At least there was now occasional good news, as operational efforts began to take effect and there were arrests of terrorists and recoveries of arms caches.
The favoured weapon remained the grenade, of which the opposition seemed to have an inexhaustible supply. Here were no primitive homemade pipe bombs of the type we often encountered in Cyprus, as dangerous to the terrorist as to his target. These were the genuine article - the British Army 36 grenade, the 'Mills Bomb' of the First World War, still in service as the standard fragmentation grenade. With a 4 second delay fuse, a hefty charge of ammonal and a segmented iron casing which fragmented on explosion, it was a most effective anti-personnel weapon when used against trenches, dugouts or houses. Used in the open air against a moving mobile or foot patrol (the usual target) they were less effective. The opposition here were not trained grenadiers, and had not spent hours of their childhood throwing a cricket ball. Nevertheless, many of them had no doubt developed expertise with stones during their goat-herding infancy, and only their understandable reluctance to get to close quarters explained why casualties remained as low as they were.
There was little time, under the circumstances, to engage in speculation on the channels through which these weapons were being obtained. Much less was there any possibility of investigating their source. Here was no question of an occasional illicitly obtained box of grenades - they were obviously being supplied by the truck load. One recovery of NLF arms included unopened boxes, with the British Ordnance stencils on their side and the grenades packed in their original grease. The immediate supplier was the Egyptian Intelligence Service in Taiz. Given that the weapons came from Egypt, where was Egypt getting them from? An obvious guess was that they had obtained them ' legitimately or otherwise - when the Canal Zone had been evacuated. Whatever the provenance of the grenades which were being thrown around Aden in some quantities, the fact was that a lethal product of the British Isles was being used to kill and maim some of its citizens, usually the long-suffering British soldier. To those on the receiving end, the result was the same whether the presence of the product in question resulted from cupidity, incompetence, or a combination of both.
The origin of other weaponry in use by the NLF was less obscure. Again the immediate supplier was Egypt, but the weapons originated behind the Iron Curtain. Aden was one of the many places around the globe which figured in the lethal game of chess which the Russians and Americans were playing in their efforts to increase their own influence at the expense of the other. As usual, both were acting through intermediaries. The Russians were happy to give Nasser moral, financial and material support for as long as he was prepared to make trouble in the Middle East. The Americans were more fortunate. They had to provide nothing. Their intermediary, Britain, required no assistance from them, and received none. Simply by carrying out its remaining imperial responsibilities, it was committed to its role in this particular act of the global drama.
The particular item of Iron Curtain weaponry which began to make its appearance in Aden was an unpleasant one. Known as an 'S' mine, it was a Czech copy of a German wartime prototype. It was an effective anti-personnel weapon. Shallowly buried or camouflaged in some way, and activated by weight, an initial detonation projected a canister containing shrapnel into the air. A secondary detonation distributed the shrapnel over a wide radius with lethal effect. These mines began to appear buried in the dirt verges of roads which Army foot patrols were accustomed to use. This produced a strong tendency for the patrols to stick to the tarmac, and their casualties from this weapon were, in fact, minimal. As usual in this type of warfare, the main sufferers were the hapless civilians, including children, trying to lead a normal life in the midst of the current insanity.
Another example of Iron Curtain weaponry which began to make its appearance was the mortar bomb. This began to replace the anti-tank rocket, fired from a launcher, which had been a feature of the earlier scene but which now appeared to be in short supply. Mortar bombs, however, were not. What was lacking was a means of projecting them. The mortars for which they were produced were heavy and awkward to carry, as any infantryman would testify. They were also not easily concealed for passage through a roadblock or patrol, and were thus not really suitable for urban terrorism. However, under the tutelage of the Egyptian Intelligence Service the NLF became adept at producing their own throwaway mortars. A mortar is merely a steel tube through which the bomb is lofted into the air by means of a propellant charge in its tail. Lengths of domestic or industrial tubing were not hard to obtain, and could be adapted. They could be sited on any patch of open ground, and the firer could be gone before anyone could work out the origin of the bomb or bombs which had descended out of the sky. The NLF even added an element of sophistication by grouping two or more of these homemade mortars together in a battery, and triggering the discharge electrically. The ultimate refinement, which appeared towards the end of the Emergency, was to attach a time switch to the electrical circuit, so that the operator was well out of the area even before the bombs were fired. He could even have been, by then, close enough to the target to act as his own observation officer. Fortunately this weapon was extremely imprecise, and most bombs exploded harmlessly.
Nevertheless, there were some casualties from all these weapons, mostly sustained by the Army. At least now, however, they had their Special Branch Squads out most nights, and could feel that they were hitting back to some extent and not just providing a target.
Not all the casualties were soldiers, however. Any European in the streets, whether in uniform or not, was a potential target of opportunity. There were still British civilians in Aden, and while most had the sense to keep off the streets unless necessary, they still had to go about their work. A manager of the Aden branch of a British bank was shot as he entered his office one morning. A middle-aged and inoffensive employee of the Port Authority was shot as he walked from his flat to dine in the Crescent Hotel. A young member of the High Commissioner's staff was shot as he carried out some errand for his boss.
One of the most tragic of these incidents occurred in the Steamer Point area, containing most of the duty-free shops and the Crescent Hotel. These buildings had grown up because the area was, as the name implied, adjacent to the pier from which passengers from visiting ships would swarm for a night ashore or to shop for bargains. Those days were, of course, long gone. Visiting ships now posted notices before arrival pointing out the unsettled state of the town, advising passengers not to go ashore, and warning them that they did so at their own risk. Most did the sensible thing and remained on board.
There are always those, however, who will ignore good advice or are prepared to take a chance. Most of them got away with it. Not so a young couple strolling and looking in shop windows one day. They were a young British man employed in Papua New Guinea, and an Australian girl. They had just got married, and were on their honeymoon trip to Britain to introduce the bride to the groom's parents. To some prowling NLF member, anxious to get rid of his grenade, they were too temptingly soft a target to ignore. As often happens with so imprecise a weapon as a fragmentation grenade in the open, the results were unpredictable. One of the two was killed, but the other left untouched. The unfortunate bride was left standing in a state of shocked disbelief looking down at the dead body of her new husband.
Careless civilians were not, however, the only people to invite disaster. Off-duty servicemen, who should have been better trained and briefed, were sometimes equally foolhardy. Two RAF men were gunned down in a slum area in which they had no possible business. Why they should have been wandering there (or how they had been lured there) was not clear. Fortunately, they were not on duty and not armed, so did not make a present of valuable weaponry to the assassin. Two soldiers from Aden Brigade were shot in the warren of slum houses on the slopes of Jebel Shamsan behind Maalla. In this case there was no doubt what had brought them there, since the incident took place outside the hovel of the Somali whores they had been visiting. One of their officers, visiting the scene and looking at one of these unsavoury creatures, said sadly: "To think that men would risk their lives for that!" On the credit side, again no arms had been lost.
These two incidents served to bring home to all ranks of the Services the fact that they were targets not only when driving around in uniform in Landrovers, but 24 hours a day whatever their dress. For the last year of the Emergency there was no repetition of such incidents.
Although some of the NLF prowlers ready to take advantage of opportunity targets were obviously amateurs - for example, those armed only with grenades - some of the individual assassinations were professionally carried out. The pistoleros selected a soft target, hit with speed and accuracy, and disappeared leaving no trace. What was being done to catch such people? The answer was simple - nothing. There were no leads to indicate who might be engaging in this form of activity. Indeed, there had never been a satisfactory identification of the four-man team responsible for the assassination of Harry Barry. Since operators of that calibre were few and far between, it seemed quite likely that subsequent killings were carried out by the same team, or members of it. Although there was no evidence to support such a theory, it was speculated that there might even be just one skilled and careful assassin. He could be operating unknown to other NLF members, from whom he wisely kept completely aloof. This would explain why no whisper of his identity had ever been heard. He was a text-book terrorist, so security conscious as to be virtually immune from betrayal - a species well known in theory, but extremely rare in practice.
However, there was one potential asset. The SAS troop stationed in Aden contained two Fijians. There were quite a number of Fijians serving in the British Army at the time. Fine physical specimens from a warrior tradition, they made good soldiers, and this would be particularly true of any who had passed SAS selection procedures. One of the two was a tough character indeed. Corporal Labalaba, although not particularly tall, was very broad. In spite of his large size he moved like a cat and was a crack shot.
Both Labalaba and his compatriot were trained to a hair, and there could be no doubt of their ability to take on anything or anybody the opposition could produce. The idea was that they should do plain-clothes patrols in suitable areas in the hope of spotting somebody up to no good and disposing of them. Their appearance was not ideal - Labalaba was too broad, the colouring of the pair was not quite right, and they had a springy step unlike the usual somnolent Adeni shuffle. However, the melting-pot of the Middle East threw up odd racial mixtures, and they were clearly not European. With luck they might not arouse suspicion.
They were kitted up with futahs - the tubular cotton sarong which was the normal nether covering of the South Arabian Arab. Foot covering was 'flip-flops', the equally ubiquitous rubber sandals. Handguns were carried on a belt holster, and concealed by a cotton shirt hanging over the futah, also normal Adeni dress.
As a variant to patrolling on their own they would sometimes follow some distance behind two clearly European-type soldiers in the normal khaki drill uniform of Aden Brigade, pretending to be drunk and carrying their weapons in sloppy fashion. All this histrionic ability and super alertness was deployed in vain. The rat did not approach the cheese, the patrols were discontinued and the 'Assassin of Steamer Point', as one of the journalists christened him, continued his occasional activities until the end of the Emergency. Whether he was an individual agent of the Egyptian Intelligence Service, a lone NLF member unconnected with a group, or just a plain old psychopath taking advantage of the troubled times would never come to light. The only thing certain was that he was a competent, alert and cunning operator, with a highly developed sense of security.
Information was flowing in, but there was little or no time to assess and collate it, or to engage in any planning other than on a day-to-day or minute-by-minute basis. Only slowly did a reality of the situation emerge in time spent on analysis, collation and research would in any case have been wasted. In Cyprus the leader of EOKA, George Grivas, was a trained staff officer. As such, he naturally thought in terms of structure and hierarchy. Units had designated commanders, and were allotted areas of operation. Reports to Headquarters were insisted upon, and this necessitated a network of couriers. All these facts made the organisation vulnerable to a methodical and conventional Intelligence approach. It was possible to build up an 'Order of Battle' showing units, their commanders, their inter-relationships, their courier links and the areas in which they operated. This knowledge enabled specific targets to be identified, and a degree of planning and setting of priorities to take place.
The NLF, on the other hand, had little or no structure, and their hierarchy was unclear and subject to abrupt change as individuals jockeyed for power and influence. It was more a loose alliance of individuals than an organisation. Groups formed or reformed, gave themselves new names, acquired new members and grew or shrank in size according to the popularity of the commander or his access to arms or money. They tended to operate independently, rather than in accordance with any overall plan or co-ordinated strategy. They had little or no inter-communication, and even had successful penetration of one Group been achieved (which it never was), it would probably have revealed little or nothing about others. There was no practicable alternative to shambling along, reacting to information on a day-to-day basis and forgetting about priorities or specific targeting. In any case, such luxuries largely came under the heading of long-term planning, and even the most optimistic could hardly continue to maintain that here there was a long term.
In spite of this lack of conventional European-type organisation (or perhaps because of it) there was no doubt that the NLF were prospering. Apart from the increase in incidents within Aden State itself, their activities were multiplying and becoming more widespread within the States of the former Protectorate (now under the shaky and ineffective control of the embryo South Arabian Federation). Occasional forays by a Royal Marine Commando or Para battalion into the hinterland to make strikes against them might cause them local and temporary setbacks, but their progress was unmistakable. Indeed, given the strict terms of engagement within which the Security Forces were confined, such progress was unstoppable. Strike aircraft and heavy weapons could have done them serious damage in those areas where they were seizing control, and deterred them from further advances, but there was a strict ban on the use of these. The British Government's priorities were firmly fixed. First came whatever diplomatic activity was necessary to extricate them from the Aden mess. Second was avoidance of criticism from the United Nations and that mythical and newly-minted concept 'world opinion'. Effective counter-terrorism came a very poor third.
With every success NLF numbers grew as tribesmen flocked to join the winning side. The Federal Regular Army and the National Guard, never exactly effective bodies, were so heavily penetrated that they could be written off for all practical purposes. It became increasingly evident that the hold of the traditional tribal rulers over their subjects was weakening daily, and that the South Arabian Federation was, effectively, a dead duck.
Without doubt, much political and diplomatic activity, both open and clandestine, was going on behind the scenes. The current FLOSY leader was based in Cairo. Mohammed Salem Basindwah was a politician rather than a terrorist. Information, therefore, that he was about to visit Aden to see his wife, and was arriving the following day, was considered unlikely to be true but had to be acted upon. The source of this information was a westernised Arab, considered a strong supporter of the Federation. He seemed very sure of himself. Jim drove him, late that night and face well concealed, while he pointed out five separate houses in which Mohammed might stay.
The following day the first necessity was to get five operations officers and five Army Special Branch Squads ready to go without disclosing any of the targets or arousing undue curiosity. This was rather more than B Group's usual operating strength; it had at that time only four Operations Officers and only three Army SB Squads were permanently maintained. However, this presented no difficulty. The contract Police Officer who ran the office, tired of his sedentary job, volunteered to take the fifth party. Aden Brigade was happy to arrange two extra SB Squads. A briefing was arranged for late that evening.
The major problem was that it was obviously desirable to hit all five targets simultaneously. The targets could have been pointed out on the ground by Jim to the individual Operations Officers concerned, but any kind of activity by way of reconnaissance in the target areas might give the game away. Blown-up air photographs were apparently unobtainable here, although they had been used extensively in Cyprus eleven years earlier. The final arrangement was that in the early hours of the following morning all five parties were formed up into one long convoy. Jim led the convoy to the first location, jumped out and indicated the exact house to the leader of the first team. They ran to occupy it, while Jim drove on and repeated the process at the remaining four houses. Since the search parties would enter the houses immediately, and prevent any warning phone calls from them, the raids were as near simultaneous as could be contrived.
Mohammed was, in fact in his own house, No 1 on the list. He was discovered, in his underpants, crouching on a narrow ledge below the level of the parapet on the flat rood. He was allowed to collect a few clothes before being driven to the Interrogation Centre where he was placed in a cell on his own and allowed to talk to nobody. Nor were any of the interrogators to talk to him
Jim got John Prendergast out of bed and they then got the High Commissioner out of his. The news was delivered. After a long pause, Sir John's comment was illuminating: 'What the bloody hell are we going to do with him?' His instructions were then clear and concise. The prisoner was not to be interrogated or even spoken to by anybody. He was to continue to be held incommunicado, but within these restrictions was to be given VIP treatment.
Three days later, John Prendergast had a one-on-one interview with him. He then instructed Jim to put him on the next plane to Cairo. This was done. The most successful capture by Security Forces during the Emergency ended in farce rather than triumph.
In any case it was becoming evident that FLOSY and its leadership were becoming less significant by the day. Never very good as terrorists, they were now virtually non-existent in that respect. Any effectives they still had in Aden were too busy keeping out of the way of the NLF to cause any trouble. If anybody wanted to negotiate with anybody, it was going to have to be with the Egyptians or the NLF, or both. Indeed, the word 'terrorism' was no longer really applicable. What the British were dealing with was less a subversive movement than a war between the NLF on the one hand, and on the other the British and such remnants as remained loyal to the Federation. The British controlled Aden, and the Federation controlled Al Ittihad, the capital. The hinterland, except where some tribal ruler maintained some sort of control over his area, was becoming more and more NLF territory.
The smell of scuttle became unmistakable, at least to those who had experienced the skill and speed with which British Governments of both parties could get rid of useless and embarrassing colonial relics. The High Commissioner, Sir Richard Turnbull, who had worked so long and so hard to make the South Arabian Federation a reality, was abruptly replaced. His successor, Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, was not a colonial administrator. He was a diplomat whose last posting had been as British Ambassador to Egypt, where he was said to have formed an amicable relationship with Nasser.
This made no great difference to B Group. They continued to do what they were being paid for, with nightly searches and arrests, and occasional seizures of weapons or explosives. These had always been surprise in-and-out raids, with the Operations Officers and SB squads spending as little time as possible in a static and vulnerable position. This fixed policy became even more necessary as growing NLF numbers within Aden increased the likelihood of an armed reaction to operations.
In June 1967 an event occurred which was to change the political background in the Middle East quite dramatically. Nasser, who had managed to acquire for himself a kind of de facto recognition as the leader of the fight of the Arab States against Israel, overreached himself. He had already built up (with Russian assistance) a numerically impressive and well-equipped Army and Air Force. Now, confident of military superiority, and with the support of Jordan, Syria and Iraq, he decided to carry the crusade forward. He blockaded the Gulf of Aqaba, a vital Israeli shipping route.
The Israelis took this as an act of war. Already mobilised for the showdown which was obviously coming, they wasted no time in reacting. A massive pre-emptive air strike virtually destroyed the Egyptian Air Force on the ground. The Israelis then occupied the Gaza Strip and pushed into the Sinai, destroying Egyptian armour in large numbers and driving the Egyptians before them like sheep. To drive home the moral they threw the surprised Jordanians out of Jerusalem and back over the Jordan, and for good measure advanced into Syria. There they occupied the strategic Golan Heights. The war lasted exactly six days.
The blow to Arab prestige in general and that of Nasser in particular was enormous. The one-eyed Israeli General Dayan, when asked how it was possible to win a war in six days, was reported to have replied tersely 'Arrange to fight Arabs'. This comment received world-wide publicity. Not even the' Bullfrog of the Nile' could claim this result as a victory, as he had done with the British and French withdrawal from Suez. Any claims he may have had to the leadership of the Arab World were destroyed at a stroke, and although he remained in power with undiminished authority over his own people until his death, he was never to regain the stature he had enjoyed previously.
The effects of the humiliation of Nasser, and the end of his ambitions of a pan-Arab Empire, soon began to be evident. Under diplomatic pressure from Britain and Saudi Arabia, he agreed to withdraw his troops and aircraft from the Arabian Peninsula, and stop giving military and financial aid to the Yemen. Two years earlier, this would have dealt the NLF a serious blow. Now, however, it was too late. They were going from strength to strength, both numerically and in terms of prestige. They already had adequate stocks of small arms, and as they extended their influence over more and more of the former Protectorate, State armouries were handed over to them or were captured. In one tribal capital alone, they acquired 400 rifles at a stroke. This was not merely important as a gain in hardware. Rifles were a most valuable unit of currency, and a means of buying tribal loyalty. The British had for years controlled the tribes of the interior by a judicious mixture of force, the threat of force, and subsidies paid in rifles to those who behaved themselves.
FLOSY no longer had any serious credibility either in political or terrorist terms, and it was evident that the South Arabian Federation, which had never really got off the ground, was now the deadest of dead ducks.
To extricate itself from South Arabia, therefore, the British Government was faced with little choice but to negotiate with the NLF, and this they proceeded to do through devious diplomatic channels. Effectively, the British now controlled only the town of Aden, the industrial area of Little Aden, the Federal Capital of Al Ittihad, and a few miles around. Within this area, the Army exchanged shots with small groups of NLF, and found themselves increasingly the targets of sniping and attacks by homemade mortars. Outside that perimeter was, increasingly, NLF territory.
A major problem was the security of the airport. This served both the RAF Station and the few civilian airlines forced to use it. There was a large perimeter to be guarded against entry by saboteurs, and the vulnerability of aircraft to ground fire during take-off and landing was a major worry. The home-made mortar favoured by the NLF, adapted to be fired electrically from a distance, could lob bombs onto the runways more or less at will, with minimum danger to the operator. The majority exploded harmlessly, but a lucky hit on a loaded aircraft was always possible, and could have caused serious casualties. If hostilities continued, and should matters reach the stage when an evacuation of British personnel became desirable, this might have to be carried out by sea. Contingency planning had to cover this eventuality. .
For B Group, meanwhile, it was business as usual. Searches, arrests, interrogations and recoveries of arms continued. Detention Orders were still issued, and prisoners sent off to the Detention Centre. However, it was becoming increasingly evident that they were just sticking a finger in the hole in the dyke. For practical purposes, they were simply helping to provide a bargaining counter at the negotiating table by demonstrating that the British were still capable of exercising control and keeping the NLF out of Aden if they wished. It was not an appealing role for those concerned, but like disciplined professionals they worked according to their briefs irrespective of the political situation or what the diplomats might be cooking up.
Into an increasingly chaotic situation the UN decided to send a 'fact-finding mission'. This was in belated response to years of complaints from Egypt and the Yemen about the illegitimacy of British occupation of the area, the brutal oppression of the local population, the torture of prisoners etc etc. The mission consisted of three delegates selected from countries such as Columbia, Uganda and Zaire. They were thus well qualified to comment on the kind of undemocratic procedures they were supposed to be investigating.
Among the various visits they were scheduled to make was one to the Detention Centre. This could only have brought credit on the British Administration. The Centre was a brand-new, custom-built prison, adapted to its present purpose for the duration of the Emergency. It was staffed by military policemen of the Joint Provost Staff, commanded by a former Metropolitan policeman, now a Squadron Leader in the RAF. An ideal man for the job, he ran the place in exemplary fashion. Detainees held in it were arguably better housed and fed (and certainly far safer) than the average British soldier in Aden at that time. The UN visit was, therefore, quite welcome to the High Commission in this respect at least.
Unfortunately, the time of the visit happened to coincide with a routine fire fight between the NLF and the Army. As the chopper containing the UN party neared the Centre, its occupants could see below them a most impressive display of tracer, indicating a battle in progress below. To them, it no doubt looked much worse than it actually was. They could not be expected to realize that such incidents normally created more noise and confusion than casualties, or that the source of the tracer was probably the Army firing at a small number of NLF they probably could not see and who had either already dispersed or were on the point of doing so. After a very short discussion among themselves and with their High Commission minder, the pilot was asked to return them to base. They left Aden without completing their itinerary. No doubt, their lack of up-to-date or on-the-ground information did not deter them from compiling a voluminous and inaccurate report on the situation. Perhaps it still moulders, probably unread, somewhere in the vast and ever growing archives of the UN.
However, the antics of representatives of the UN were of no relevance to those on the ground. An unfortunate incident was about to transform a dangerous and muddled situation into tragedy.
It had long since been realized by anybody with their ear to the ground that the Armed Police in Aden were not merely unreliable in respect of any form of law enforcement, but contained at least one active NLF cell. Their British officer, an old Aden hand, had been transferred to a job with the Federal National Guard at Al Ittihad. He had been replaced by another, an ex Para on contract, who did not survive long before being shot, leaving the unit without a British commander. The prime suspects were his own men. Any action against them by B Group, who would have liked to raid their barracks, was specifically forbidden by the High Commissioner. There thus existed, strategically situated near the entrance to the Crater District, a body of active dissidents with arms kindly provided by the authorities they wished to overthrow. The same authorities were prepared to turn a blind eye to this fact, presumably hoping that the problem would magically disappear.
This lunatic situation now became complicated by two coinciding factors. The first was an incident of indiscipline among the Federal Regular Army in Al Ittihad. This body, never exactly distinguished, was now reaching rock bottom, with zero morale, zero confidence in the leadership of the South Arabian Federation, and a strong fear that they had chosen the wrong side. Some of the troops, some of whom were armed at the time, demonstrated against some real or imagined grievance. Shots were fired, but their Arab Officers dispersed the demonstration. However, the usual wild rumours soon spread to the effect that there had been a mutiny, that a British Officer had been shot, and that the British were rounding up the Arab troops with great brutality and disarming them.
This rumour reached the Armed Police in Crater. With justifiably uneasy consciences, they decided that they would be the next on the list for retribution. Breaking into their armoury, they prepared for a possible siege.
At this point the second factor appeared. The Northumberland Fusiliers, who had kept the peace in Crater for two years in exemplary fashion, dealing competently with grenade attacks, riots, traffic accidents and other problems, were about to go home. A Scots regiment, whose advance party was already present and was being shown around the area, was replacing them. A two-vehicle mixed patrol of Fusiliers and Scots entered Crater. As they approached the Armed Police barracks the frightened inhabitants, concluding that this was the advance guard of a punitive expedition directed against them, opened fire at short range.
The sustained burst of fire at almost point-blank range, unexpected as it was, was devastating. All members of the party were killed, with the exception of one lucky soldier who managed to make his way unscathed to a nearby Arab house, where he was given shelter until the fuss had died down and darkness had fallen, when he made his way unimpeded back to his unit. However, the crew of an Army helicopter that over-flew the scene and provided the first report of the incident said that they thought they had seen movement by one of the bodies lying in the street.
The initial information received by Aden Brigade, and passed immediately to the High Commissioner, was thus of an ambush of a severity not previously seen within the town of Aden, leaving at least one wounded British soldier at the mercy of a savage foe. The reaction of the High Commissioner was immediate. Fearing 'not without reason' an immediate influx of troops into the area bent on the recovery of their wounded and summary revenge, he placed the Crater District out of bounds to all troops.
Thus, before the Northumberland Fusiliers could finish mounting the punitive operation which was their intention, they were confined to camp. The order was obeyed, but it was a rather mutinous battalion that emplaned a few days later to return to the United Kingdom. The creation of a 'No Go' area in the heart of Aden may or may not have been politically and diplomatically advisable. It was certainly militarily shameful.
As far as B Group was concerned, the fact that they were unable to operate in Crater made little difference. Terrorist activity within Crater had been minimal compared to other areas in Aden in which terrorist entry and escape were easier, and there were few targets within it apart from members of the Armed Police who were out of bounds.
However, an unpleasant and controversial state of affairs now existed. Entrance to Crater was guarded by the newly arrived Scots, whose road-blocks controlled (at least in theory) all conventional movement into or out of the area by vehicle or on foot, and who had observation posts at strategic sites elsewhere. They were new to the country and the area, their introduction to it had been unfortunate, and they could, perhaps, be excused for thinking that they were faced with a full-scale war against a numerous and well-armed enemy. At night, particularly, they managed to blaze away an impressive amount of tracer. They also became the source of an equally impressive body of reports of having been fired on from various points within Crater. Added together, these reports suggested that Crater was occupied by heavily armed and active NLF units in considerable force.
This was certainly the view of the Army, and they managed to persuade some senior Civil Servants to agree with them. Certainly there were times at night when those fortunate enough to be able to lie in bed were able to do so to the accompaniment of what sounded like a pitched battle. The fact that the Director of Intelligence refused to agree that the situation was as serious as it appeared aroused a certain amount of resentment. He, in turn, focused a beady eye on B Group, the source of his information and advice on terrorist matters.
A logical analysis of the situation led to the inescapable conclusion that a certain amount of over-reaction was taking place. The perpetrators of the ambush (now theoretically trapped inside Crater) would naturally expect that the incident would attract serious retribution. Some might have already escaped the area, but the remainder would be waiting for the expected assault. They were unlikely to be in an aggressive mood. It was not impossible that individual snipers among them would take pot shots at the Scot's perimeter, but the volume of enemy fire reported was, under present circumstances, ridiculous. In particular, reports of heavy automatic fire were of dubious credibility. The Armed Police possessed no such abundance of weapons and ammunition, and neither did the NLF within Aden.
Had the reports emanated from the Paras in Sheikh Uthman, an open area on the outskirts of Aden into and within which terrorist movement was easy, they would have indicated a serious and significant augmentation of NLF firepower. As a reflection of the situation in the confined and now isolated Crater, they were frankly ridiculous. Had the NLF had any crazy ideas of occupying Crater and denying it to the authorities, they would undoubtedly have been parading inside it waving their weapons and firing shots into the air to display their martial prowess. This was not happening.
It so happened that B Group had a source inside Crater. One of the contacts taken over from Jock Snell and developed, he was a middle-aged Adeni businessman. His motives were simple. He had prospered under the British, sympathised with FLOSY, and hated the uncouth Yemeni thugs of the NLF, whose treatment of him should they ever assume power would, he knew, be unsympathetic. He had no direct access to the NLF, but was a prolific source of low-grade information on suspect individuals, and provided useful insights into Adeni public opinion. He had proved reliable and conscientious. He was also very accessible, since he came in every day from Crater to Steamer Point in connection with his business. Meetings with him were increased to daily.
His reports were interesting in that he had nothing to report. According to him, the inhabitants of Crater were going about their normal affairs as best they could under the circumstances. True, it was necessary to keep out of range of the Scots, especially during the hours of darkness, but since they were posted outside the area this posed no great difficulty. He had seen no sign whatever of NLF activity, nor had anybody else to whom he spoke. In particular, I had asked him to look at locations from which heavy machine gun fire had been reported. He heard or saw nothing of such activity, which could hardly have passed unnoticed in such a heavily populated area. The main difficulty being experienced was by those who, like the source, had to pass through the Scots roadblock daily. This involved lengthy checks of vehicles and pedestrians, carried out in a belligerent fashion.
The ridiculous situation was eventually brought to an ignominious close. British and Arab Police Officers were in telephone contact with the Armed Police in Crater, and eventually managed to persuade them that there would be no retribution exacted if they returned to their previous 'good behaviour'. No doubt hardly able to believe their good fortune, they agreed.
The Scots marched into Crater like a victorious Army, with pipes playing and under the gaze of forewarned Press and TV detachments. The massed bands of NLF who had so recently been allegedly firing on them had vanished as if by magic. Not a shot was fired. Crater remained relatively quiet for the rest of the Emergency.
Incredibly some individuals managed to ignore the deteriorating security situation and conduct their social life as before. Perhaps they were genuinely unaware of what was happening around them. Perhaps they worked on the principle that although others might come to grief, it would not happen to them. More explicably, most of the organisers of social activities were the wives of service officers or commercial civilians who had some kind of home established in Aden, and would have found it difficult, inconvenient and expensive to live separated from their husbands. They were trying to maintain an atmosphere of normality and ignore the nastier aspects of life.
This was less difficult for Service families than for civilians. They lived, normally, in houses or flats belonging to or hired by the Services. These were in areas in which the level of security was fairly high. Terrorist activity, to them, was something that took place elsewhere. Perhaps they did not hear the news or read newspapers, and thus had never heard of the 'Assassin of Steamer Point' and his occasional strikes against Europeans. Many years later, I met the wife of an RAF staff officer who had served in Aden during the Emergency. She told me how much she had enjoyed her time there ' 'there was always something going on'. I agreed with her, but was surprised that she had enjoyed it until it became clear that she meant there was always some kind of party somewhere.
Army personnel in general were less likely to have this attitude than the other two Services. The three battalions of Aden Brigade, for example, were at the sharp end. They lived in camps or barracks, and spent most of their time on duty of one kind or another. They were fully aware of the dangers of the situation, since out on the streets they lived with them daily. Those that had wives were not accompanied by them. Their meagre social life was confined largely to Messes. Outside the camps, other ranks had no amenities provided. Officers had access to the Tarshyne Officers Club, with its two pools and weekly film shows, but their social life was severely restricted by the calls of duty.
The numerous staff officers of Headquarters Middle East, of all three Services, were in a different category. They would normally be on 'accompanied postings', living in roomy Service quarters with their wives and sometimes children, and had more time and inclination for socialising. Voluminous and explicit instructions on the attention to be given to personal security, issued to all members of the Services and their families, seemed to make little if any impression on some of them.
Civilians were less likely to ignore reality. They were keenly aware that they were soft targets. Some had already left, or had sent their families home, but others continued to live in areas which were more open to terrorist attack, and less well guarded, than the accommodation occupied by Service families. One such rang up a Special Branch Officer of his acquaintance one evening to explain that some sort of gun battle seemed to be going on outside his house, and that a bullet had disabled his air conditioner. What advice could his friend give him? The SB man explained that since the Army was obviously already involved at the scene, the only advice he could give him was to lie on the floor. Rather plaintively, the caller replied: 'Where do you imagine I am calling from!'
A 'head in the sand' attitude was sometimes evident in people who might have been expected to know better. James was one of the two remaining members of the old Aden Intelligence Centre. An Arabic speaker and long time resident of Aden, he was knowledgeable on the subject of the tribes of the hinterland and their customs, feuds, internal politics and squabbles. Immersed in this, he barely seemed to notice that radical changes were taking place, and that his field of expertise was becoming less and less relevant.
B Group passed on to him the information that his Arab servant had been reported to be a member of the NLF. The information, although considered probably reliable, was without detail or any suggestion of specific activities on the man's part. It was certainly insufficient to justify using meagre resources to haul him in for interrogation. It was thought that the matter best dealt with by a friendly warning to James. The information was not well received, and its truth was flatly denied. James pointed out that the man was an Audhali, a member of a tribe whose rulers were traditionally staunch allies of the British. 'Furthermore' said James, to clinch the matter, 'The man has served me faithfully for fourteen years. Also, I happen to know that he kissed hands with the Sultan only a month ago'. The implication was that as well as being a member of a loyal tribe, he was personally loyal to its loyal ruler and to James Bridges.
Shortly afterwards, James was sitting on his verandah at home when a grenade was lobbed on to it from below. His injuries were serious, and involved weeks in hospital in Aden before he was fit enough to be invalided home to UK for further treatment and convalescence. His servant, necessarily the prime suspect, was found, not surprisingly, to have decamped.
An indifference to elementary security precautions by people who should have been particularly alert to their necessity could have even more tragic results. Among the British inhabitants of Aden at the time were a number of 'Ministry of Defence Sponsored Civilians'. These could be Civil Servants of various kinds, but among their number were individuals belonging to what was already beginning to be referred to by an American usage - the Intelligence Community. They were theoretically subject to the same security regulations, and received the same guidance on their conduct, as members of the Services.
One of these gentlemen decided to hold a party in his flat in the town. This was not in a guarded area, and thus should not have been used for such a gathering. Even had it been held in a protected area, the premises and any domestic staff should have been examined before any such event by members of the Joint Provost Staff, who would have arranged for any security considered necessary.
On the evening of the party, the hostess was surprised to find that her house servant was not present to help with the preparations, and could not be found in his quarters. However, an extra servant who had been hired for the evening to act as barman had arrived, and she had to make do with him. The guests started to arrive, were provided with drinks, and drifted into two small groups, the men in one and the women in another next to a large wooden bookcase. At this point the Czech S mine concealed behind some of the books by the absent houseboy, exploded.
The effect at close range in a confined space was devastating on those nearest. To add to the effect of the detonation, the lethal hail of fractured casing and shrapnel was augmented by jagged shards of wood from the bookcase. The wife of the Security Liaison Officer, the representative in Aden of the Security Service, was killed outright. Also killed outright was the wife of the Major commanding the Army Counter-Intelligence Company stationed in Aden at the time. The wife of the Special Branch Technical Officer received injuries from which she subsequently recovered to some extent, but which left her permanently paralysed from the waist down. The women having taken the full blast, the men were left with only minor injuries.
An investigation was carried out by the Special Investigation Branch of the Joint Provost Staff, assisted by Dicky Bird, the Government explosives expert. Dicky, a very experienced operator, had no difficulty in reconstructing the scene and identifying the weapon used. His report was a model of clarity, and the investigation was as thorough as the time and place permitted. It produced no results, and for all practical purposes was a waste of time. The errant houseboy was undoubtedly out of reach in Taiz, where he would be receiving the plaudits of his employers.
A rather cavalier attitude to personal security on the part of the Army was partly due to a lack of experience of Internal Security operations, or indeed of anything other than a training routine. Officers and NCOs who had learned their lessons in Cyprus, Malaya or Kenya were now retired, or scattered around the world in appointments or places where such experience was wasted. In any case, memories of these previous Emergencies were growing dim. Conventional Army units, as one Marine Commando Officer caustically put it, were perfectly trained for peace. The time was not far distant when frequent exposure to terrorism in Northern Ireland would considerably raise the level of alertness shown by units and individuals, but this was still in the future.
In the case of the Army, or at least the infantry regiments, there was also sometimes a kind of recklessness among junior officers ' a feeling that ignoring or scoffing at risks was part of the military ethos. Such an attitude rarely survived contact with reality in the shape of casualties. These tended to concentrate the mind and encourage alertness.
The high level of activity continued. Until now B Group and the Army SBS Squads for whose operations they were responsible, had led charmed lives. The only casualty had been a young soldier killed when he accidentally discharged his own Sterling. From enemy action, they had suffered nothing. Undoubtedly the careful planning of operations, and the policy of operating whenever possible on a quick in-and-out basis during the hours of darkness, had played a major part in this freedom from casualties. However, there had also been a degree of luck, and there were signs that this luck might be running out.
Captain, Jefferson was a career British Army Officer on secondment from his regiment to the Federal Regular Army. He had offered his services to B Group. . As with other such offers, there was no way he could be fitted into the regular operational set up. However, he had provided background information on FRA morale, and on individual FRA members.
Jefferson set off one afternoon from Al Ittihad to Aden to keep a lunch appointment. He would frequently make the same trip at the same time. The road was good and straight, one of the few stretches of road in Aden State where it was possible to drive fast. His intended lunch companion was surprised, therefore, when he was late. There was no report of any incident, and the Ittihad road carried enough military traffic to ensure that any hostile activity on or near it would have rapidly come to notice. However, later in the day, and after further enquiries, it became evident that Jefferson had disappeared without trace.
It was, in fact, three days before the mystery was solved, and then more or less by accident. A military helicopter en route to Ittihad spotted a stationary car in sand dunes not far from the Ittihad road. It was Jefferson's, and his dead body was inside. A reconstruction of what had occurred indicated an amazing story. He had apparently been attacked on the road itself, since there were no signs of an ambush having been laid or carried out along the verges. A vehicle must have overtaken his on the road, and he had been shot through the window as it passed. This alone showed a certain expertise, since he was a fast driver. He was probably killed instantly by the first shot or shots, but dead or alive had steered his car off the road and behind a dune where it had stalled out of sight of the road.
This was a skilled job, far more professional than the usual amateurish NLF activity. There was little doubt that the culprits were to be found in the ranks of the Federal Regular Army. Apparently the training they were being given by their British instructors was not being wasted.
Shortly afterwards Malcolm Hobbs, one of the Operations Officers, was the victim of a grenade attack as he drove round a traffic roundabout. His neck wound was minor, involving only a few days hospitalization, and there was no reason to believe that the attack was directed at him personally rather than at the military Landrover he was driving. Nevertheless, it was a bit close to home.
A third incident followed. Two of the Operations Officers went on a raid with the Paras Special Branch Squad. This was in Sheikh Othman, the main area for NLF activity, in which most incidents occurred. The raid was unsuccessful. On the way back, the SB Landrover came under automatic fire on a bend. The exchange of fire was brief, and no casualties were caused. However, subsequent examination of the vehicle showed an entry hole in one door and an exit hole in the other. How the round had passed through the cab containing the two Ops Officers without at least grazing one of them was a mystery.
When this incident was reported to John Prendergast at morning prayers, his reaction was to order an immediate stop to all operations. This seemed at the time perhaps an over-reaction, but he was already aware of a decision to start to evacuate British forces. Matters were now effectively in the field of plain regimental soldiering, and counter terrorism was redundant.
Some sort of agreement had been cobbled up behind the scenes between the British Government and the NLF. For Britain, this was an unashamed scuttle from a sinking ship on which it was clearly not worth wasting further time, money or British lives. Effectively, in exchange for an unopposed evacuation of British troops, power would be ceded to the NLF. No doubt, large sums of the British taxpayer's money would also change hands to encourage cooperation.
Obviously, implementation of such an agreement assumed good faith on the part of the NLF command, and the even more dubious premise that they had control over their militants. True, the NLF had every reason to adhere to the agreement since by so doing they obtained unopposed all they could have hoped for 'FLOSY and the now virtually defunct South Arabian Federation presented no opposition which they need fear. However, up to the last moment the possibility existed that the NLF (or some elements of it) might make use of the airport too dangerous for mass flights. This would necessitate an evacuation by sea, an even more complicated administrative problem. Contingency plans already existed for this, and the possibility was taken seriously enough to create a demand that B Group continued to use sources and monitor incidents for any trends which might imperil the air evacuation.
Although no official announcement of the agreement had been made, it soon became evident that the prospects for the future were widely known. The first sign was the virtual abandonment of Steamer Point by the Indian shopkeepers who had made a good living for generations from the sale of duty-free goods to residents and transients. Almost overnight the once thriving area became a wilderness of boarded-up shops. Those of their owners who qualified for British nationality vanished to the UK, the remainder to India. Their property and any remaining stocks were abandoned to the mercy of the looters expected to descend on Aden after the British departure. A general air of depression enveloped the city as Adeni businessmen, policemen, bureaucrats, and professional men considered their uncertain futures. The wealthy or those with good contacts elsewhere could emigrate. Those tied to the city by economic or other bonds would have to stay and make the best of it.
Amazingly enough, amid the general gloom and preparations for departure, there was one arrival. A British entrepreneur arrived with a chartered ship, which he proposed to load with all the surplus military or other goods now being abandoned or available at rock-bottom prices. These he intended to sell for a substantial profit in the UK. A true merchant adventurer, he belonged more in the 18th or 19th than the 20th Century.
Also unaffected by current events was the refinery a short distance down the coast at Little Aden. Here, it was business as usual. The installation had remained virtually untouched by the Emergency. There had been a Brigade of troops quartered there, but their primary duties were as a 'Fire Brigade' in case of troubles elsewhere in the Middle East or in Africa. They had no particular internal security role, and there had been an absence of terrorist activity in the vicinity. After 'Independence' no doubt the large international oil interests concerned would make the necessary financial arrangements with the new masters to ensure they remained undisturbed.
B Group was disbanded. The Interrogation Centre was no problem as far as repatriating staff was concerned. They were all personnel of the three Services, who looked after their own in this respect. The Operations Officers went off on civilian aircraft. The Intelligence Corps office staff went back to the Army. Bob Laing returned to the RAF.
Marine Commandos were scheduled to hold a final perimeter as troops and civilians were evacuated. They would then depart by sea, as would the Governor and some of his staff, courtesy of the Royal Navy. I went down to the docks to watch the Commandos disembark for their task. Dead on time, a helicopter appeared overhead from the Commando Carrier 'Bulwark', anchored offshore. It discharged the first team, immaculate in green berets and pressed and starched khaki drill. As soon as the last man's feet touched the ground, the chopper swung away to return to the ship and form part of a continuous chain moving between ship and shore until the task of landing the Commando was completed. The second chopper, already hovering, had a Landrover slung beneath it. As its wheels touched the ground the first team unhooked it, leapt aboard and drove off. The second team descended from the chopper ready for the second Landrover, slung beneath the third chopper. Each Landrover team knew where they were going, and why. The whole exercise was executed with the precision and grace of a Corps de Ballet. The difference was that these dancers were performing a tricky and dangerous task in the real world, not creating a fantasy for entertainment
Jim Herlihy was the last to leave, except for Len Sutton who was supervising the abandonment of the AIC building and John Prendergast who would be accompanying the High Commissioner on his departure courtesy of the Royal Navy on the final day. The cease-fire had held, apart from isolated incidents. Even the extremists of the NLF by now were well aware of the significance of Red or Green berets. They knew that the departing British still had sharp teeth, and they had no need to take unnecessary risks. No problems had been experienced at the Airport, which was still functioning efficiently. The air evacuation had gone without a hitch.